Rousseau and Derrida on Liberty and Language the First Institution: Excerpt

I’ve now finished writing and revising a draft of this paper for a collaborative project mentioned in previous posts, and sent it to my collaborator. I won’t give details until the project is complete, but the general idea is that two authors write a paper each on Rousseau’s Essay on the Origin of Languages, one from a Chomskyan perspective and one from a Derridean perspective.  These papers will be followed by replies by both authors to the other paper. This will be an online publication in a very new experimental venue, which I think is a really valuable thing to do, though it has to be said not the best thing for ‘professional’ recognition, anyway I’ve been working hard on things for more established venues, so a reasonable mixture I believe. Anyway, the co-authored book should be online before long. Work in progress I’ve already posted won’t feature much in the final version, as the reasons for picking out those passages and posting them, in this case are reasons why they don’t fit into the final long essay, and have some separate interest.

I’m posting the introductory and concluding parts by way of a summary.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau takes an idea of antique provenance, that language is a defining feature of humanity, and turns that from an attribute to a pervasive aspect of human existence, not separable from its many aspects, bringing together music, poetry, passions, communication, history, political institutions, physical geography, human physique, and social conditions. His position has precedent, notably the work of Giambattista Vico in the  New Science, though given the closeness in time, it could be said that both Vico and Rousseau are the products of an Enlightenment reaction to classical rhetoric theory, natural law, civil society, and historical views of humanity. One way of thinking of the The Essay on the Origin of Languages would be as a extraordinarily concise and deep summary, and rewriting, of the New Science, taken in conjunction with Montesquieu’s The Spirit of the Laws. The Essay is not a text greatly discussed in succeeding decades, but there is a range of philosophical work going up to Friedrich Nietzsche by way of German Idealism, including Wilhelm von Humboldt’s theory of language and Søren Kierkegaard on the possibilities and limits of communication, which seem to follow up the Essay, if more from accidental resonance than deliberate reference.  As Jacques Derrida indicates in Of Grammatology, Rousseau’s thought about language can be found dispersed across his texts, so any influence on later thinkers about language and communication might be through various conduits. These indirect relations parallel the relation between Rousseau and Giambattista Vico, overlapping that of Montesquieu and Vico, which is never made clear by Rousseau or Montesquieu and may again as much a matter of an accumulation of resonances and echoes as direct influence.

The story of language in the Essay is in  part on an essay on music, and includes a discussion of liberty, so in this context language encompasses issues of melody and harmony in speech and political institutions based on liberty. The discussion of the origin is a complex one in which language as distinguishing feature of humanity does not appear in nature, since language is the first social institution.


The readings of Rousseau and Lévi-Strauss in Derrida, the harmonisation of them and the emphasis of differences, brings out an ethical and political tension between written law as oppressive, denying nature, and speech as the place of liberty, liberty existing within the community where everyone’s voice can be heard by everyone else. That utopia of the speaking community intersects with a Marxist belief in liberation from class structures and a Freudian belief in the speaking cure where desire can lose its alienated forms.

To some degree, Derrida refers to the intellectual atmosphere of Paris in his time as a student and academic, his own early adherence to Maoism and the widespread interest in combining Marx with Freud, and maybe Foucault’s resistance to all forms of institutionalisation already apparent in History of Madness. Derrida’s suggestion is that if the utopian possibilities of language are themselves based on an exclusion and suppression of the forces in language, then that utopia must be question. There has always been law, there has alway been the non-natural in human society, there has always been non-spoken language, and trying to conceive of humans without them is to conceive of humans without community or language, or any development of natural faculties through society. From this point of view Rousseau was right to believe that liberty is conceived in language, since the existence of language is deeply interwoven with the existence of negotiable social institutions and laws, with the existence of community itself. Rousseau’s limitation is that he has difficulty in recognising that freedom is always a second birth, because like language the moment of its institution is always a repetition of a previous moment. There can be re-examination of the past, but there is no perfect point of critique to be found in an ideal community of language, law and self-government, in the past or in the rationalisations made in the present, which in practice inform our vision of the past. Derrida helps show that the  existence of political liberty is deeply bound up with this these layers of indeterminacy, the impossibility of a flawless language and therefore of the flawless articulation of a pure community. Since the temptations of absolute community are always there, the language of politics must be a constant engagement with and differentiation from such limit situations.




Me on Rousseau at the July ‘Rousseau’s Republics’ conferences in Bristol

My abstract has been accepted and my registration has been completed for the Seventeenth Biennial Colloquium of the Rousseau Association, Rousseau’s Republics.  

I have no claim to be a Rousseau specialist, but I hope to have something of value to offer as someone very interested in Rousseau, and who is working in political theory.  I tend to work in various things, but at present if I’m a specialist in any one figure, or aspiring to be in my current research, it would be Foucault.  Things I’m working on in Foucault will have some relevance to the Bristol paper, but I will only refer to him in passing.  Machiavelli, Montaigne, Pascal, and Hobbes will be my main references apart from Rousseau. These are not full discussions, other wise the paper would take hours to read, but aspects of their thought which illuminate Rousseau’s position on sovereignty and law in a modern republic, compared to an ancient republic   I should be speaking on Foucault at an event later in the Summer, more on that when everything is confirmed.  

The title and abstract are at the bottom of the post.  Broadly, I’m looking at Rousseau in the light of the contrast between ancient republics and modern republics.  The contrast was set up in the eighteenth century, though most famously by Benjamin Constant in the early nineteenth century (‘The Liberty of the Ancients Compared with that of the Moderns’).  I consider the contrast to be illuminating buy question it in its sharpest forms.  The more rigid forms of this contrast tend to make Rousseau the modern enemy of modern liberty, on the grounds that he wanted to revive the total authority of the social body over the individual in the ancient republic.  That this is a brutal portrait of Rousseau would come as no surprise to Rousseau scholars, but I think there is more to be said about how Rousseau both idealises Ancient Republics particularly Rome, and how he is distant from them in important respects, largely to do with his view of law as will by a political sovereign rather than emerging from local customs, and the ways in which law comes from the divine and natural realms in antiquity.  That modern emphasis on the relatively arbitrary nature of law making, and its source in a political sovereign will connect with issues I looked at in a workshop paper on Hobbes from a couple of years ago (and which I have failed to work on since),  and in which I bring in Pascal on the paradoxes of law.  That is the way that human willed law lacks absolute justice, which it must claim, since it is historically contingent and dependent on political will.  Montaigne also comes in here with regard to the foundations of law, and Machiavelli with regard to a view of politics in ancient Rome which Rousseau draws on, but which is much less rationalistic and abstracted.  

As I am not a real Rousseau specialist, unsurprisingly most names at the conference were previously unknown to me, but I am looking forward to hearing all the papers, given the conference is organised round a clear theme, and all the paper titles look connected to me.  The only speaker known to me before as a Rousseau specialist is the conference organiser, Chris Bertram.  I recognised two other names, Charles Griswold and Ryan Hanley, with regard to their work on Adam Smith.  That is certainly an interesting connection for me (Smith and Rousseau) and brings up a major preoccupation for me, the relation between libertarian political theory/classical liberalism (emphasising individualism and voluntary cooperation in the economy and civil society ) and republican political theory (which emphasises the value of politics).  There is a widespread view that more of one means less than the other.  Though I agree that a lot of one excludes the other, I don’t believe that it is always a question of mutual exclusion, and within moderate limits more of one can mean more of the other.  If anyone finds this strange, for the moment I will just refer to: Ancient Athens, most democratic, most individualistic, and most commercial, of the Ancient Greek republics; Renaissance Italian city states; nineteenth century France, Britain and America (not to idealise any of these examples).  






Rousseau’s political thought is in large degree an attempt at a purified version of the Roman Republic.  Rousseau discusses the history of Rome, including Cicero’s account of the Republic, and engages in a more implicit discussion of Machiavelli’s understanding of Rome.  Rousseau finds that the Roman Republic is established on the basis of general will, and on his understanding of government under general will, but also deviates from the general will.  The Ciceronian understanding of the republic is of a mixed mode, a form of government rejected by Rousseau.  Though Rousseau is close to Machiavelli’s Discourses in some respects, e.g. praising the institution of dictatorship, he is also implicitly opposed to the value Machiavelli places on political conflict.  The distance of Rousseau from both Cicero and Machiavelli, is the outcome of the the emphasis on the ‘general will’.   The foundation of ideal republican law, on the purity of the general will, makes Rousseau distant from the Ancient republics he praises, since the laws they have are relatively impure, and do not rest on the purity of the ideal of the general will.  Rousseau looks for the work of the general will in the law codes of ancient legislators, and in this falls back into justificatory myth comparable with his view of religion as civic religion.  The kind of law Rousseau aims for has a universality, and fixity, lacking in ancient republics.  Ancient republics referred to the sanctity of supposedly unchanging law and tradition, but not of an unchanging formal set of laws decided by a deliberating sovereign body.   Cicero thought that the best republic was Rome, because Roman laws and institutions developed in stages.  Rousseau prefers to emphasise that law as given in a pure form by Numa, whom he equates with ‘nomos’.  Rousseau’s conception of law is distinctly modern rather than ancient, and comes from the difficulties early modern thinkers discussed in defining law, and the foundation of law, as purely just.  Montaigne, and then Pascal, gave particularly well defined accounts of the problem of equating state enforced law with justice.  The general will, in Rousseau, is an implicit answering claim that there can be law which is just.  Rousseau is also implicitly answering Hobbes’ suggestion that there is no republican liberty, except as an anarchic threat, because all states rest on law issued by the sovereign, which constrain all citizens.  The Hobbesian condition of being under law is a restraint on liberty in all states.  Rousseau needs to show how the sovereign must be the whole people, which is the general will, and that the people cannot delegate the general will to any individual or institution.  In this, Rousseau partly follows Hobbes’ account of how the initial compact is formed, but resists Hobbes’ next step of the creation of an artificial man as the law making sovereign.  Hobbes argues against the cogency of ancient republicanism.  Rousseau can only defend Roman republicanism by instituting a modern republicanism based on the purity, and inalienability, of law, distinct from ancient republicanism.  

Link of the Day: Chris Bertram Podcast on Rousseau

Primary version of this post is at Barry Stocker’s Weblog, with visual content!

Why Rousseau Matters

I found this at Alexander Bird’s Philosophy at Bristol blog which links to podcasts of philosophy talks given at the University of Bristol. The last entry is for July, and that is Chris Bertram’s Inaugural Lecture as a Professor. Bertram is one of the contributors to the collective blog Crooked Timber, which is perhaps the most influential political though blog around. Bertram is a leading Rousseau commentator, so I was very interest in hearing this (particularly as I as discussing matters relevant to Rousseau in both of yesterday’s posts) and was not disappointed.

Bertram disposes of the very persistent idea that Rousseau’ philosophy is based on a belief in the natural savage, explaining that what Rousseau is concerned with is how civilisation adds a different kind of self-love to immediate self-love of natural man. Rousseau’s goal is not the return to a ‘noble savage’ but to resist the most negative aspects of the self love which seeks recognition from others. Rousseau’s gaol is to mitigate, and eliminate social status anxiety and envy. Bertram perhaps slightly underestimates the degree to which Rousseau sees humans torn between the two kinds of self-love, between natural and social selves, and as he mentions himself, Rousseau thinks there is an ideal balance at a very early stage of social existence before inequality grows. I would say there is always a tension in Rousseau between the immediacy, the non-anxiety of he natural self and the anxious self-consciousness of the social self. There is always a wish to be more in accordance with nature, but as Bertram is explaining also a positive theory of social development. As I mentioned Pascal in both of yesterday’s posts, it’s appropriate to mention that I think there are some broad similarities on those issues (a divide in man between greatness and fallenness and what comes out of that).

Bertram gets in a few jokey remarks about academic status in relation to other professions, individual academic status anxieties, and rankings of university departments. These do bring the issues in Rousseau to life. Bertram finishes with some remarks on Raws’ version of egalitarianism and Rawls’ work on global justice, arguing for a more radical egalitarian approach. This is not my approach, but Bertram does a good job of presenting his approach in relation to Rousseau. Bertram’s approach is that of Marxist who has moved to a very radical form liberal egalitarianism, so paralleling the development of the late G.A. Cohen, who I posted on a few days ago, with reference to his sad death.

One small think which caught my ear was that Étienne de la Boétie, and his Discourse on Voluntary Servitude, was mentioned as a forerunner of Rousseau’s criticisms of authority. That connected with yesterdays comments on Montaigne as a Boétie was a close friend of Motaigne and is mentioned in the Essays. I have noticed something recently about the reception of de la Boétie and I will deal with that tomorrow.

Montaigne and Pascal on the Foundation of Law

Primary version of this post at Barry Stocker’s Weblog, with visual content!

I’m more familiar with Blaise Pascal than with Michel de Montaigne, but I am doing some work on Montaigne at present. I’ve noticed something that I had not noticed before, how much Pascal takes from Motaignes’s Essays and uses in his Pensées. That include Pascal’s famous phrase about the mystical foundation of law.

What is the difference between them in the context of that phrase, something which will give me a start in thinking about the relationship between them. Montaigne, who had been a judge, refers in the immediate context to the impossibility of justice in law, There is always a contrast between following the forms of law and what the sense of justice tells the judge. There are always mistakes so that the innocent are punished. Montaigne concedes that as a judge he must have been involved in many mistakes and many occasions in which his sense of justice collided with the decision he had to bring. In the broader context, he refers to the endless possibilities of interpreting law. The law is never obvious, it can always be debated and there is no end to the debate or the number of positions that can arise in the debate. So justice is not present for at least three reasons: inevitable mistakes, the conflict between intuitions of justice and what the existing law requires, the impossibility of certainty in knowing what the law says. Legal judgements can only arise through a biased interpretation of law, there simply is no interpretation which will not be endlessly discussed if we try to be completely objective. The way law works as whole is that it is there and has to be applied, it has not foundation beyond the fact of its existence. This acceptance of legal institutions though they cannot be just is the mystic foundation of authority.

Pascal’s contextualisation refers to the force of law. This does not exactly contradict Montaigne, but Montaigne seems to think more in the sense of law as a habit rather than something imposed by force. Pascal also refers to the link between custom and equity. Equity, the sense of the broad justice of law as a whole, is an outcome of custom. This does not exactly contradict Montaigne either, but it seems more radical to emphasise that any sense of equity is a product of custom. Pascal directly criticises Montaigne’s view by saying that people do not not follow law through custom, but because they believe it is just. Again, even here, Pascal does not really contradict Montaigne, he is also concerned with the role of custom and habit. What marks out Pascal’s position is he thinks irrational beliefs are necessary to laws and the state. Montaigne emphasises imagination, but Pascal goes further in seeing the social world as something that depends on what people imagine.

Montaigne does not really emphasise contradiction, he presents a self that knows it is highly fallible but does it best to follow a modestly defined reason. Legal institutions are not just, but people obey them because they are used to them.

Pascal strongly emphasises contradiction. He strongly emphasises the irrationality of the self; and the way it imagines itself and the world. People obey legal institutions because they believe them to be just. The process by which people come to believe they are just must be a least partly as in Montaigne, habit. But for `Pascal, the habit builds on force and the imagination. The human self is not just confused, it is driven by imagination, by the search for glory, and external force.

Montaigne versus Pascal, is like Montesquieu versus Rousseau?

I don’t suggest that will completely work, but it would be a useful comparison.

Montaigne and Montesquieu see moral imperfection, errors of judgement and lapses into violence, intruding into social life.

Pascal and Rousseau see constitutive egotism, illusion, and violence, at the origin of social life.

Philosophy and Literature: Thomas Hardy’s Mayor of Casterbridge

A recent rereading of Thomas Hardy’s novel The Mayor of Casterbridge has inspired a view thoughts about philosophy and literature.

It is a novel which is particularly close to tragedy, as define dby Aristotle in The Poetics, a hero falls in the world and endures suffering as the result of an error of judgement. As a novel, The Mayor of Casterbridge repeats the situation in a structure more complex than tragedy. An Aristotelian terms. a repeated tragedy within an epic. The tight structure of tragedy is repeated across a work with the episodic associational structure of epic.

The tragic falls: Henchard sells his wife while drunk and angry with her; Henchard ruins himself later when he is a wealthy farmer and a mayor, by engaging in a reckless attempt to win a commercial battle with his ex-friend and manager Donald Farfrae; he misses the chance to marry his ex-girlfriend before Farfrae wins her over; he misses the chance to tell his step-daughter Elizabeth-Jane that he is not her biological father when he finds out himself: he misses the chance to tell the truth to Elizabeth-Jane and her biological father. He goes through many little falls due to his self-destructive character leading to our next topic.

The hero Michael Henchard has many ‘anti-hero’ qualities. He is a loner and is disposed to arbitrary destructive and self-destructive acts. He is a Dostoevskian character in this sense, and has some resemblance with the heroes of Knut Hansun, themselves presumably drawing on Dostoevsky. Like Dostoevskey’s characters he tends to promote scandal. One memorable example is his attempt to welcome a member of the Royal Family to Dorchester after he has fallen from being mayor and is a rather disreputable laboourer.

The anti-hero, I believe, receives its classical description and theorisation in Lukacs’ Theory of the Novel. Lukacs refers to the growing contradiction in the novel between the hero and the world. The hero does not see herself in the world and cannot follow the laws of the world. There is an opposition between subjectivity and the world. The hero can increasingly only exist as insane or criminal. In this argument, the anti-hero is the necessary hero of the novel since Cervantes.

The Dostoevskian aspects of Henchard, irritability, irrationality, self-destruction, provocation of scandal, excessive pride coexisting with excessive humility, draw us towards Bakhtin”s discussion of the novel through Dostoevsky in Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics. Bakhtin emphasises all these aspects of Dostoevsky in a discussion of what he takes to be the ideal form of the novel in Dostoevsky. The most Bakhtinian concern is the provocation of scandal and that leads us to the preoccupations of Rabelais and his World. Famously Bakhtin there dwells on the carnivalesque as an important moment in popular culture until recent times, referring to festival moments where social hierarchy is inverted, and power is mocked. The rise of Henchard from labourer to mayor and rich farmer, and his subsequent fall to labourer again has this structure in general. One moment in the novel particularly suggest the Carnivalesque. This is the ‘skimmity ride’ in which disreputable local characters humiliate a couple in the novel. In general the Skimmity Ride is a rural practice of mocking a couple where the wife does not ‘belong’ wholly to the husband. In this case they the locals parade large dummies of Henchard and his ex-girlfriend Lucetta. The intention is to humiliate Lucetta and her husband Donald Farfrae. The consequence is that Lucetta miscarries and dies. This is the Carnivalesque as a festival of resentment, rather then the neo-Marxist reading of Bakhtin in which the Carnival is the release of popular radical energies. In this case, the mocking of power is clearly an example of evil, and is described in terms of every kind of economic, social and psychological resentment coming to the surface. It very much suggests Rousseau on self-love and imagination, and Nietzsche on ressentiment.

In its tragic aspects, Hardy’s novel seems to confirm Hegel and Kierkegaard’s analysis of the difference between Ancient and Modern Tragedy. Ancient Tragedy refers to the burden of fate carried by a family or a nation , it refers to pollution that afflicts the hero which comes from an unconscious or inherited transgression of boundaries. In Modern Tragedy, the hero bears all this alone from deliberate willed decision. Henchard demonstrates a strong sense of unbearable guilt not just at his actions, but at his who,e existence. The novel ends with his desire to be forgotten. Elizabeth-Jane is left to reflect in a more measured novellistic way on the burdens of existence, so tragic elements are modified by the novellistic which presents a whole world or varied fortunes. The tragic elements also have to be seen in terms of Schopenhauer, whose philosophy Hardy knew,a s did many literary writers of the time. Henchard’s sense of the futility of existence is like Schopenhauer. The role of tragedy relates to Schopenhauer, as does the role of music. Henchard is partly destroyed because he normally lacks the music which communicates with his inner self, a view of music clearly taken from Schopenhauer in The World as Will and Representation.

Envy in Rawls: Rousseau, Nietzsche and Resentment

Rawls versus Nietzsche
Chapter 81 of Rawls’ A Theory of Justice addresses ‘Envy and Inequality’, with passing reference to Nietzsche. Nietzsche appears on three occasions in the book, and is the representative of what is bad. H eis lined with Aristotle as Perfectionist, a follower of the morality of self-perfection. Nietzsche is presented as giving an egomaniac version of perfectionism. Aristotle’s moral ideal is an emotionally controlled slave owning aristocrat who regards himself as superior to slaves, labourers, foreigners and women. That does rather leave a question mark over any assumption that Aristotle is morally preferable to Nietzsche, but our main concern here is the comments on envy. Nietzsche turns up as the bad philosopher who finds envy everywhere. Rawls quite rightly observes that Nietzsche places envy at the centre of social relations and psychology.

Ressentiment, Envy and Egalitarian Liberalism

Structure of Ressentiment in Nietzsche
Rawls does not think that envy is an intrinsic part of human relations. For Nietzsche, envy as ressentiment, is at the heart of all psychology and social relations. Consciousness itself is constituted in the pain of the denial of instinct, and that denial is repeated in the origins of society. Those structures of ressentiment are given another form in the relation of master and slave, which reduces the slave to ressentiment in the powerlessness which prevents the execcution of revenge against the master. Ressentiment clearly translates from French as ‘resentment’ and as it contains the word ‘sentiment‘ brings in strong overtones of feeling itself. Nietzsche regarded the animal which can feel consciously as the animal which has a consciousness structured by ressentiment. In Nietzsche, that refers to the desire for revenge frustrated and turned into an impotent obsession with imaginary punishment. It is suggested that time itself produces such a reaction, as time places the past outside the power of consciousness. The realisation of the relation is a major dramatic and structural element of Thus Spoke Zarathustra; and is discussed in On the Genealogy of Morality in a relatively discursive manner.
Eliminating Envy in Rawls
Rawls refers to envy as the product of inequality that cannot be justified to those who have less. The idea of justified inequality is a pillar of Rawls’ thought. It is expressed in his famous ‘difference principle’. That principle is presented as the product of a rationality that precedes actual social relations, that is the ‘veil of ignorance’ which allows the design of a political system without regard to the place of the designer in any hierarchy in that system. Difference, that is inequality, is justified where it benefits the worst off in that society, where it increases the living standards of the poorest. The point of the chapter is that following the difference principle eliminates envy. Where the poorest can find that inequality raises their living standards, the inequality does not result in envy. That envy avoidance requires special measures to compensate for unjustified inequality, e.g. disadvantage that results from disability. Rawls’ liberalism here seems rather utopian, envy will be eliminated by sufficient public spending judiciously targeted.
Philosophy of Envy in Rousseau and Nietzsche
Rousseau is one of the main positive references for Rawls. Strangely he omits the account of envy in Rousseau’s discourse on inequality. Rousseau thinks of envy as emerging after the institution of property where individuals compares themselves with each other, and imagine how they appear in the imagination of others. This is the negative opposite of the sympathy Rousseau thinks humans feel for each other by nature. The possession by any person of more than other people will result in this envy. Rousseau sees envy as the inevitable result of inequity, All that can avoid envy is complete equality between individuals.

A Silence in Rawls
Rousseau exists in Rawls in a rationalised form, as a theorist of contract. The more extreme and disturbing aspects of Rousseau are silently excluded in Rawls. Instead we get a framework for rationally limiting envy. There is a lot of scope for intervening against unjustified inequality through compensation, but no scope for eliminating inequality. Rousseau accepted that large states will have social inequality, but is guided by the ideal of an autarchic community of small property owners. No such state can exist for Rawls. The Rtawlsian society is not driven by the energies of envy, or passion of any kind.

Rawls imagines a system of political justice which excludes passion. Envy itself is based on a depersonalised comparison between individuals. Rousseau’s citizens are driven by political and social passions, Rawls’ social actors are driven by a rational conception of society detached from individual interests and passions. Both Nietzsche and Rousseau deal with the human animal separated from nature, Rawls imagines a purely rational agent abstracted from any individual desires.

Tocqueville on Republican Politics and the Tyranny of Small Communities

Political Readings of Tocqueville
Alexis de Tocqueville has been taken up within many perspectives: Religious Conservative, Libertarian near Anarcho-Capitalist, Neo-Conservative, Communitarian Left-Liberalism, Any other definition of Liberalism that might exist, Post-Marxist Democratic Theory, and no doubt a few positions I’ve overlooked. Despite this wide ranging appeal, some Marxists and near Marxists take him as the enemy. His support for, and involvement in the French colonisation of Algeria, and his assumption that Islam is culturally, intellectually and morally inferior to Christianity. are always emphasied by that tendency whoa re rather quieter about the racist and colonialist assumptions that can be found in Marx and other leftists of the time. Foucault’s Society Must be Defended provides an account of how left-wing and democratic thought originate in an idea of a kind of ‘race war’ with a ‘foreign’ elite.

Universalism and Competition between Nations
The support for colonialism has been regarded favourably by some Neo-Cons as a committment to universalising liberal-democratic ideas, though surely at its best Neo-Conservativism shows more respect for all religions and the right of all nations to self-government, even if with the assistance of US intervention. There is evidently an element of Islamophobia round the fringes of Neo-Conservatism. The Marxists and Neo-Cons are rather too keen to drag support for European colonialism in the 19th Century into another context. Tocqueville’s views on international relations were a mix of Realism and idealism. He was a Realist in the sense that he believed that nations conflict around questions of national pride and it is right to support the pride of your own nation. This itself refers to the element of this thought which emphasises the role of pride and the search for superiority in the human imagination, itself rooted in in his reading of Rousseau and Pascal. He was an idealist in the sense he believed that national policy should be directed to moral universalist goals like abolishing slavery, and he was certainly never at all attracted to the idea that any race is inferior or superior to any other. This post is principally concerned with his views on democratic theory and we will progress to that theme.

Tyranny of the Majority
The main concern here is to contest the assumption from a variety of directions that Tocqueville was for localism against the central state. We need to look at what he meant by the ‘tyranny of the majority’. Beofre we even consider Tıcqueville’s view of the ‘tyranny of the majority’, we have to deal with the widespread belief that John Stuart Mill coined that phrase. Mill used th phrase in On Liberty, but took it from Tocqueville, who he had met. Their relationship ended awkwardly, but Tocqueville certainly made an impact on Mill, who thought it worth writing long reviews on both parts of Democracy in America. Tocqueville used the phrase ‘tyranny of the majority’ in the Democracy to refer to local spirit in small town America. Though Tocqueville has enormous respect for the spirit of self-government in small town America, he also had deep concerns about the way that public opinion imposes conformity and crushes individuality in local communities. He thought a strong central state was necessary in order to balance that small town spirit. The inhabitants of the small towns needed to be able to appeal to a federal centre to resist the conformity of small towns. It is important to note that Tocqueville though public opinion could be just as dangerous to liberty as the state. That was the basis of his concern that democracy might lead to the worst kind of tyranny if a government resting on public opinion imposed the majority view in an authoritarian manner. Tocqueville should not, therefore, be invoked in support of the view that local participation in politics or the moral spirit of small communities, is the basis of liberty. This places Tocqueville closer to the more statist aspects of the Federalist Papers, than to the Jeffersonian belief in the absolute value of local community autonomy

Law and Conserving Liberty
Conservatism, in the sense of defending law against the tyranny of the majority, was best upheld by a new aristocracy, of the legal profession, which is necessarily committed to defending law and to its administration in a hierarchical structure headed by the central state. For Tocqueville the aristocracy was important in limiting monarchical power in the pre-democratic world. His
father was deeply connected with the ‘ultra-monarchist’ current in French politics. This is a misleading label in the sense that this current was for the aristocracy and against strong central monarchical power. Again for a good diagnosis, see Foucault, Society Must be Defended. Tocqueville caused great resentment in his family by adopting liberal constitutional democracy, which in the French context meant accepting the strong sovereignty of the National Assembly. Nevertheless, the concerns of the ultra-monarchists are in some way present in Tocqueville’s political thought.

Tocqueville and Republicanism: Politics and Human Spirit
Two points here: Tocqueville provides an alternative to recent Republican theory; Tocqueville cannot be associated with anti-political forms of Libertarianism and archaeo-conservatism. This is also present in the Marxist and anarcho-communist wish to abolish the state. These currents tend to find politics degenerate compared with the emergence of decisions from the ‘natural’ authority present in established communities. Tocqueville’s thought is Republican. He
thought politics was a part of the spirit of human communities and is necessary to liberty. He recognised that it rests on pride, envy, egotism and ambition, within himself and all who participate in politics, but considered competitive politics as the best way of using those tendencies in human character.

Tocqueville and Republicanism: An alternative to Current Republican Theory
The very welcome revival of Republican theory in Phillip Pettit and others, is largely a social democratic theory which places social and economic equality at the centre. Tocqueville recognised the need for state sponsored welfare, but was a lot more cautious about state action to promote equality, he thought the state has a role in preventing destitution not in redistributing property. Tocqueville provides an example of Republican participation as and end of human character, based on moderate welfarism and deep respect for property rights as the foundation of liberty and property, and the necessary basis for the independence of all from the state. Current Republicanism is very close to Communitarianism in assuming moral grounds for collective limitation of individualism, while adding more interest in politics as a part of human life. Tocqueville provides an alternative to the economic egalitarianism and to the moralistic view of politic as an instrument for moral goals.